Nature verses the local grocery...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Critiquing Trails: Torture Tactics

Louis L'Amour once said: "There will come a time when you are finished.  That will be the beginning." As a prolific writer himself, Mr. L'Amour must have had a writer's first critiquing session in mind.

Jan Verhoeff recalls, "Gasping for air, I looked around the table at the faces looking back at I watched them hatchet my work with X’s, lines, scrolls, and deletions they believed I should make." They call this particular type of torture, critiquing.

Sometimes the writers across the table from you, who seem to have taken your new creation right up to death's doorstep, are truly opening that proverbial door to new beginnings, new heights of perfection that will lead you down a quicker path to publication.

Verhoeff's article pokes some fun at her first critiquing experience at a writer's group.  But most new writers face their first critique session with trepidation; and with good reason.  They've poured hours of hard work into their article/story/book, pushed Spell Check 212 times, double-checked their quotation marks, cut some sentences, capitalized a few words and generally put in hours of editing.  It is truly perfect now, they boast with pride. Every editor this side of the Atlantic is writing them a check.


Ms. Verhoeff and a gazillion other new writers survived this torture, so will you.  Be prepared, all good writers have to pass under this troll bridge to reach the other side, the side where acceptance letters outweigh pink rejection slips. In fact, seek out this necessary skill of critiquing, learn the ropes so you can return this life-breathing favor to your peers.
Here are a few tips for wading through the shark-infested waters of your first critique.

1.Distance your emotions; remember that the papers that your so-called writer friends are using for red-pen torture tactics are simply cold, unfeeling words on hard, dry paper.

2.Trust your fellow writers; they have your best interests at heart; they've walked this road before and survived; so will you.

3.Calmly ride out the wave of adrenaline; it only lasts about 20 minutes; you will bless them all when your editor sends you your first check.

4.Respect the life-long learning curve; five heads really are better than one.

5.The secret here is this; the first critique is the worst, each one thereafter is easier.

As you approach your next writer meeting, group or workshop, park your itty-bitty feelers at the door; they'll be patiently waiting for you when you leave. They do have their place, they are paramount to the rest of your writing; love scenes, arguments, plots and all your characters ahead must be driven by good emotions as well as intellect, talent and hard work.

Treasure your critiquing peers. Truth is, the time will come in the not too distant future when you will seek out these chicken killers with any number of valuable bribes. Critiquing is truly the biggest key to your writing success.

Besides...revenge is sweet, they have papers too!

As always, Nature prevails.


  1. Very good!
    I have had firsthand experience at Jan Verhoeff and Danielle's critiquing. Not only did my work look they had killed a chicken and let it bleed all over my stuff, 'red ink' all over the pages.
    I learned from them and became a better writer.

  2. you have ANY INKLING (red inklings...) of what the above commenter could be speaking of?

    Now, I can personally attest that Ms. Verhoeff has a QUITE LEAKY red pen. I had a barn once...that got a good dousing!

    And Mr. commenter above has done a great deal of his own 'dousing', make no mistake! From which I too, have learned plenty.

    Seriously, we all benefit greatly from our critiquing buddies. It's the most important writing tool in a writer's toolbox - bar none!

    Thanks for your visit, anonymous.



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